Discussion “Born (un)Free: The Meaning, Ethics, and Aesthetics of Demonstrating Animals in Museum and Educational Spaces”


As part of the public program for the exhibition The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100, Garage presents a discussion focusing on the ethics of relationships between animals and people. The speakers include Hayden Fowler, artist and author of the project Together Again, which can be seen in the exhibition; Garage curator Snejana Krasteva; art historian Irina Aktuganova; animal behavior expert Alexey Vereshchagin; and Mikhail Kalyakin, director of Moscow State University’s Zoological Museum.

Conservation science and ethics deal with wild flora and fauna in natural or semi-natural environments. The prevailing paradigm states that the key value is to allow wild animals to thrive undisturbed and exercise their natural patterns of behavior, but what about animal born in captivity or those rescued from dangerous conditions and unable to return to the wild?

Zoos and aquariums have a scientific mission to work as gene banks that help to ensure the survival of critically endangered species. They also have an educational mission, providing opportunities for people to reconnect with nature and increasing awareness of the ongoing extinction crisis. These arguments are often used to justify exhibiting live animals, as the profits made by such institutions are reinvested in science and education.

This thesis cannot be directly applied to other areas, such as the entertainment industry, where animals are often displayed for profit-making purposes. Museums of contemporary art and other cultural institutions are somewhere in the middle: unlike zoos and aquariums, they are not part of the nature conservation system, but they operate as nonprofit organizations and do not aim to earn money from the use of animals in artworks. The range of ethical dilemmas in this field is therefore much wider: from animal rights and well-being in captivity to questions of informed consent and intellectual property rights in relation to content produced with the use of animals.

When is using live animals in contemporary art contexts justified? How can we ensure that all possible measures have been taken to provide for their safety, comfort, and physical and emotional health? How do we treat non-human animals with high cognitive and emotional abilities?

The speakers will honestly and openly discuss these difficult and often ambiguous questions with artists, curators, zoologists, sociologists, and activists.


Hayden Fowler is an artist. He received a Master of Arts degree from the University of New South Wales (Sydney) where he also studied Biology. Fowler has a DSc degree in Biology, with a specialization in ecology and animal behavior. Having previously worked as a vet assistant, Fowler has vast experience of using animals in his artistic practice, with his professional training allowing him to be fully aware of safety issues concerning the animals he works with.

Selected group shows include: Precarious Nature, Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch (2016); New Romance: Art and the Posthuman, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2016); New Romance: Art from Australia and Korea, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2016); and Light Moves: Contemporary Australian Video Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2016). The recipient of the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship (2008), he teaches at the University of New South Wales and the University of Wollongong (Australia). He lives and works in Sydney.

Snejana Krasteva is a curator at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. She has a bachelor’s degree in Chinese Language and Literature from Nanjing University and a master’s in Curating from Goldsmith’s College, London. From 2007 to 2009, she worked at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. From 2011 to 2013, she was a curator at Art on the Underground, London, where she realized a series of public art projects. She has curated numerous exhibitions at Garage, including NSK: FROM KAPITAL TO CAPITAL (2016), the first Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art (2017), The Other Trans-Atlantic. Kinetic and Op Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America 1950s–1970s (2018), and The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100 (2019). She lives and works in Moscow.

Irina Aktuganova is an art historian, cultural promoter, museum designer, and the founder and director of Gallery 21 (St. Petersburg, 1994–2000) and Cyber Femin Club (together with Alla Mitrofanova, St. Petersburg, 1995–2007). Together with Sergey Busov and Nikolay Sudnikov, she founded GEZ-21 (St. Petersburg) in 1999. Aktuganova curates projects in the field of art and technology, art&science, and science museum design and architecture, and teaches the course “Curating in Science Museums and Centers of Science Popularization” at ITMO University, St. Petersburg. She is chief coordinator of the competition Museum Bridges, established by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. She lives and works in St. Petersburg.

Aleksey Vereshchagin graduated in Biology from Moscow State University. His academic specialization is the social behavior of canids (as exemplified by stray dogs and wolves). A dog instructor and trainer since 1994, over the past six years he has been working with wolves at the Clean Forest bio station in Tver Region. Vereshchagin is a science advisor on canids to National Geographic and author of writings on the census and study of population characteristics and behavior of stray dogs in Moscow. He is currently working on the creation of a Center for Canid Behavior Studies. He lives and works in Tver Region.

Mikhail Kalyakin is Director of the Zoological Museum at Moscow State University and an executive board member at WWF Russia. He graduated in Biology (Department of Vertebrate Zoology) from Moscow State University and is a Candidate and Doctor of Sciences in Biology, specializing in Zoology. Kalyakin started his career at the Zoological Museum as a guide, working his way up to the position of director (from 2009). He is an ornithologist, expert in fauna, ecology, and the functional morphology of forest birds of Vietnam. Since 2014, Kalyakin has been in charge of the Animals program as part of the development of a biobank of animate systems at Moscow State University. He is a winner of the competition A Changing Museum in a Changing World (2015), run by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.

He is the author of 154 articles, author and editor of 22 books, member of 13 editorial boards of periodicals and collections of research papers, member of numerous scientific and public organizations, including the Oriental Bird Club and the European Bird Census Council, and chairman of the Menzbir Russian Society for the Conservation and Study of Birds. He lives and works in Moscow.


Pavel Boev is co-founder and Science Director of the project The Epoch of the Anthropocene. He is an anthropologist and ecologist, and a graduate of Bristol University and the Higher School of Economics. Having previously worked at the UN, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, the Russian Geographical Society, and WWF Russia, he is currently conducting research on cultural anthropology in the context of environmental and technological factors impacting social development. He is the science editor of WWF Russia’s reports on the Russian Federation’s ecological footprint and of the Russian edition of the Living Planet Report (WWF International). He lives and works in Moscow.

Dmitry Burenko is sociologist and co-founder and director of the project The Epoch of Anthropocene. He graduated in Sociology and Human Resource Management from the State University of Management, where he also received a Candidate degree in Social Psychology. A professional administrator with many years’ experience in the fields of advertising, marketing, fundraising, and project leadership in the sphere of sustainable development and education, he previously worked at BBDO Group and WWF. He lives and works in Moscow.

how to take part

Free admission with advance registration.
The discussion is in Russian and English with simultaneous interpretation to Russian.